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DOWNLOADING DEMOCRACY:

ELECTION NEWS ON THE INTERNET





By Steve Schifferes

Reuters Fellow, Oxford University























April 2006


Copyright Steve Schifferes


2

TABLE OF CONTENTS


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
…………………………………………………..3


CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTI
ON
………………………………………..4


CHAPTER TWO: TRUST, MEDIA MALAISE AND THE INTERNET
…6


CHAPTER THREE: VIEWING THE NEWS ONLINE
…………………
..2
2


CHAPTER FOUR: USING THE NEWS ONLINE
……………………….41


CHAPTE
R FIVE: THE US 2004 ELECTION…………….
...................
.
.
53


CHAPTER SIX: AM
ERICAN EXCEPTIONALIS
M
.
...
..
.......................
..70


CHAPTER SEVEN
: CONCLUSIONS
……………………………………
82


BIBLIOGRAPHY
……………………………………………………………
93


DATA SOURCES……………………………………………
.
……………
105


APPENDICES.,
……………………………………………………
.………
1
07










3


ACKNOWLEGEMENTS


I owe a gre
at deal to the many people who supported me in this research as part of the
Reuters Fellowship Programme at Oxford University. First, I would like to thank Paddy
Coulter, head of the Reuters Programme, and Vin Ray, now head of the BBC Journalism
Training C
ollege, for giving me the opportunity to take part in this programme, and to
Paddy for

his enthusiastic support

throughout the term.
Secondly, I would like to thank
Pete Clifton, the head of BBC News Interactive, and Tim Weber, my immediat
e superior,
for
r
eleasing me to take part in
this fellowship
when staffing was under some strain.

At Oxford, I am particularly grateful to the Oxford Internet Institute, and its director,
Professor William Dutton, for their gracious support and intellectual stimulation in
allowing me to take part in many of their discussions. I am particularly grateful to
Professor Dutton for agreeing to serve as the supervisor of this project. I would also like
to thank Stephen Ward, research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, and W
ainer
Lusoli, lecturer in politics at Chester University, for their invaluable help in analysing the
statistical data and

for

their insights into the issues debated in this paper.

I am grateful for all those who shared their views with me, including John L
loyd, David
Butler, George Edwards, Andrew Chadwick, Diana Owen, Michael Cornfield, Andrew
Chadwick, Jim Brady, Sue Inglish and David Jordan.
I would like to thank BBC
Audience Research, including
Pete Comber,
Oliver Tobias and James Holden, for
access
to
data
and
analysis.

I would like to thank Jenny Darnley, the administrator of the Reuter
s
Fellowship Programme, for her highly
e
fficient help

in
all practical matters, and
my wife
Caroline and my sons
Jonathan,
Sam and Paul for their understanding and suppo
rt.


4


CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION


Is the internet a bane or boom for democracy? And in particular, can it help reconnect
citizens who seem to be disconnected from politics? This is the central question that this
paper will seek to address in the UK context,

looking in
detail at how citizens used

the
internet for

political news during

the 2005 General Election
, and comparing it to the way
that the internet was used in the US 2004 Presidential Election.



It is already clear that the early hopes of the interne
t pioneers


that it would prove a
device that would revolutionise politics, lower the barriers to citizen participation, and
provide viable alternatives to existing parties and existing media organisations


are
unlikely to be fully realised. The internet

i
s being used

as with
other rev
olutionary
technologies


by

existing soc
ial, political, and media actors

for their own ends. And in
the context of politics, that means that for the majority of citizens, the mass media,
whether online or offline, are stil
l the

prism that diffract the political system. But that
does not mean the shift of
a
large number of citizens to getting political information
online has no effects. It does mean that, to understand the political role and effects of the
internet, it is e
ssential

to study it in the place where

it is most w
idely used


as part of

mass media
coverage
duri
ng a national election, when

interest in politics peaks.


The internet has become a mass medium, in the sense that more than 60% of the
population in both t
he US and the UK is now online, and most

internet

users seek news

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online. But it differs from the traditional
mass
media in

that, unlike broadcasting, it
requires people to choose

the stories they want to view.
It provides

unlimited potential to
provide in
-
dep
th information as well as the ability to communicate with others; but it also

allows people to be much more selective about

what they view. Therefore

an analysis of
how people viewed political news online can be a better test of their real preferences
than
can be found by examining either survey research or experimental evidence alone.


This paper is based
on a unique analysis of the records of the BBC News website during
the General Election of 2005. The
first chapter

examines a MORI sample

survey
con
ducted on behalf of the BBC of the overall audience for General Election news, and
measures how important internet news has now become, which are the main websites,
and why people read news online. It also examines which aspects of online coverage
were see
n as most successful. This is exp
lored further in the second chapter, which looks
at the
server logs that record
which pages of the BBC News website were vie
wed each
day. We can examine the

web
content people actually view
ed, and when they viewed it,
in o
rder to understand how

the internet is used quite differently from other media.

The next section

looks at

the
comparative data from the USA during the 2004 presidential
election, and examines the belief that the use of internet for political purposes has
p
roceeded much further than in the UK. It finds that, on the data, trends are surprisingly
similar, and argues that it is as much the differ
ent media landscape, as much as

the
different

political landscape, that explains the emergence of new forms of intern
et use.

But first we must explore the long and chequered history of the idea that the media are
responsible for the good

or ills of democracy, well before
the arrival of the internet.


6


CHAPTER TWO: TRUST, MEDIA MALAISE AND THE INTERNET


Some Lessons from
History

The i
dea that a free

press is vital for a vigorous democracy is as old as democracy itself.
It was
Thomas
Jeffe
rson who said that if he had to
cho
o
se between a free press and
democratic elections
,

he would have no hesit
ation at choosing the former
as a
better
check on

those who hold power.
And in

the early years of the new US r
epublic, the
framing of free speech within the Constitution


and a
substantial subsidy from the

US
Postal Service


led to the proliferation of highly po
litical newspapers,
w
hich were seen
as a vital
adjunct to democracy,
as De Tocque
ville attested
in his classic

Democracy in
America

in the 1830s
.

The ris
e of the free press went hand
-
in
-
hand

with the idea of

the
free, politically engaged

citizen.

(Starr, Schudson

1998
)
.


T
he
i
dea that the behaviour of the press can threaten democracy also has a long pedigree.
The rise of
mass democracy

and the subsequent rise of the mass media


first, mass
circulation newspapers in the l890s and

then

broadcasting in the l920s


led to fears

th
at
public opinion could be
cynically
manipulated

by the press

to the detriment of democracy

and freedom



and in contrast to the hope of creating the ‘informed citizen.’ (Schudson
)

These concerns were most clearly articulated by US political commentator Wa
lter
Lip
pmann, wh
o coined the phrase ‘the manufacturing of consent.’ In his insightful 1922
study,
Public Opinion
, he argued that
the average person could no longer rely on personal

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experience to form his political opinions, but needed to rely on the media

to form
‘pictures in their heads’. He argued that such pictures were inevitably incomplete
:


These limitations on our access to that environment combine with the obscurity and
complexity of the facts themselves to thwart clearance and justice of perceptio
n, to
substitute misleading fiction for workable ideas, and to deprive us of the adequate checks
upon those who consciously strive to mislead. (Lippman, 1922, p56)


For Lippman, the only way forward for democracy was to increasingly rely on experts.

His
co
nclusion was attacked by the US philosopher and educator John Dewey, who
argued that modern democracy had to be re
-
invented in order to allow more participation
by the average citizen,

and that the media could not be a substitute for the local face
-
to
-
face

community with ‘the vitality and depth of close human attachment.’


The rise of Fascism in Germany and Italy seemed to confirm fears that demagogues could
exploit the mass media, especia
lly radio, as a propaganda tool

to destroy democracy
.

A
fter World War

II
, such concerns were dismissed in the US context

by German
sociologist
-
in
-
exile Paul Lazarsfeld in

the classic 1948 study of

voters,
The People’s
Choice.

Looking at the 1940 US presidential election, where Franklin Roosevelt had
proved a master of radi
o broadcasting, h
e
rejected the ‘hypodermic’ theory of media
influence and
argued that voters paid only selective attention

to

the mass media, filtering
out views they did not agr
ee with. In his view, political influence was a two
-
step process,
and voters

took more cues on how to vote from personal contact with influential
individuals than from raw exposure to the mass media
.




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Media

Malaise

and the rise of television

The rise of television

rekindled
concerns about the
role of the media in politics,
especi
ally in the Un
ited States. By

the
1960
s

television had become the dominant
medium for political communication: p
olitical advert
ising was well
-
established;

the US
networks launched

the first in a series of P
residential debates
, offered live convention
cover
age,

and
exp
anded their main news bulletins

from 15 to 30 minutes
. And by

the
l970s, it was clear
that political participation and trust in politics
were

declining sharply
in the US
, with turnout at Presidential elections dropping
from two
-
thirds to half


trends
which
soon becam
e apparent in other advanced industrial countries
.

Commentators began
to link these two phenomena together, and the phrase ‘media malaise’ to describe the
negative effects media coverage was having on politics gradually become commo
nplace.


Initially, s
ocial science research focused on the agenda
-
setting effect of the mass media,
which ‘may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is
stunningly successful in telling its readers

what to think about.’
(Bernard Cohen, 1963).
In his classic study of agenda
-
setting, Maxwell McCombs

found that undecided voters in
North Carolina during the 1968 presidential election followed the mass media agenda,
rather than party positions, when asked ‘what do you think ar
e the
two or three
main
things the government should conce
ntrate on doing something about
?’ (McCombs, 1972).
McCombs pointed out that it was important the mass media


both television and
newspapers


followed the same agenda, and argued that less informe
d and less interested
voters were more susceptible to influence.



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The agenda
-
setting hypothesis was developed further by Shanto Iyengar, who argued that
the television


especially the lead stories on television


played a key role in agenda
-
setting. He al
so suggested that the role of the media was more insidious, in that it not
only set the agenda but
primed

voters to judge presidential candidates on those issues.

For good or ill, television has become a mature and powerful force in American politics.
In c
ommanding attention and shaping opinion, television is now an authority without
peer. At the close of the 20
th

century, in the shadow of Orwell’s 1984, it would be both
naïve and irresponsible to pretend that such an authority could ever be neutral.

(Iyeng
ar and Kinder, 1987, p133)



The

concern over the e
ffects of television rose

to a crescendo


in the l990s
as traditional
television news came und
er pressure from cable networks, and in some views, dumbed
down.

A chorus of critics blamed

television for the

growing cyn
i
cism about politics and
declining participation. Some focused on the deleterious role played by
paid
television
political advertising (
Joe
McGuiness, Kathleen Hall Jamieson)

while others looked at the
way television trivialised public life as
entertainment (
Robert Entman
, Neil Postman).
Others blamed television for encouraging passivity while creating the illusion of
participation (Roderick Hart). Some focused on the role of journalists as gatekeepers who
encouraged cynicism by sensationalisin
g

the news, focusing on the personal and the
trivial, and joining together

in a feeding frenzy

of attack journalism.

(
Sabato
, Patterson
)
The critique culminated in the idea that American television
played a central role in the
decline of civic trust, or as

Robert Putnam put it, social capital and
even more broadly,
encouraged
selfish and short
-
sighted
behaviour and
decisions by individuals
which
weakened long
-
term civic
and economic
goals.
(Putnam, 1995, 2000
, Offer, 2006
)



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However, a number of important v
oices were raised against the media malaise
hypothesis. An early critic was Pippa Norris, who argued that people who watched
television news and current affairs, and read newspapers, tended to be more engaged,
whether measured by voting, political activis
m, or community involvement, than others.
(Norris 1996). Norris also argued that both in the US, the UK and across Europe, the
reports of civic disengagement had been much exaggerated. (Norris, 1999, 2001, 2004)
Comparing UK voters between the 1964 and 19
97 elections, she found a positive
correlation between media exposure and voting in both elections. And looking at the US
between 1952 and 2000, she argued that although there has been a fall in turnou
t,
there
was no collapse in political campaigning, volu
nteering or personal contact between
activists and citizens.

Another critic was W. Lance Bennett, who argued in his 1998 Ithiel De Sola Pool lecture
that the withdrawal of public confidence from governing institutions was due to changes
in work and lifest
yles which meant they no longer served people’s needs, and that trends
in television news were a response to, not a cause of, societal breakdown, individual
isolation, and a generalised discontent with politics. (Bennett, 1998).

And Kenneth Newton (1999),

looking at the UK evidence,
argued that it was the content
of the media, not the form, which explained its political effects. He showed that
newspaper readership and viewing news programmes on television was strongly
associa
ted with political mobilisation

and increased knowledge
.


Mor
e recently, qualitative research

(based on media diaries)
by Nick Couldry and

Sonia
Livingstone (2006) suggested that
media consumption ‘contributes importantly to

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people’s possibilities for public engagement and connection’ a
nd that
an
interest in the
news
contributed to political engagement and was its
elf a major predictor of voting.


UK concerns about media malaise

However, as evidence about declining turnout and political alienation mounted in the UK,
a similar debate began

here. In the 1990s the debate was framed in terms of the

‘Americanisation’ of British politics, with the adaptation of American methods such as
negative campaigning, attack ads, spin doctors, poli
tical consultants, and a focus on

image

rather than substa
nce
, with power shifting from local parties and constituencies to
Westminster and the mass media.

(Fran
klin, Jones, Negrine, Scammell, Smetko). In their
review article, Blumler and Gurevitch

(2000)

argued that such arguments about
convergence were overdon
e. The UK was moving towards the US model

in some ways:
professionalis
ation of the campaign and its management by
media specialists;
a

growing
cynicism among the
public over party politics;
and increased antagonism between
the
press and politicians. But

ke
y differences remained: the limits on campaign finance and
the ban on
television
political advertising; the lesser importance of commercialisation in
driving media decisions, due to a larger role for public broadcast
ers and tighter
regulation; a

much great
er volume of coverage of political campaigns;

and a less central

role for
new forms of
populist journalism such

as talk shows.

Similar conclusions were
reached by Mazzoleni and Schulz (2000) surveying the European evidence,
who
argued
against the

idea that

the media was now dominating

politics,
although acknowledging
that
changes were occurring in both the media and politics sphere in the US and Europe.



12

M
ore recently, the debate in the UK has turned to a general concern about the alienation
of the public
from politics, and the
role the media might be playing in that phenomenon.


J
ohn Lloyd in

his book
What the Media are Doing to Our Politics

argues that si
nce the
1960s UK politicians have been

on the defensive, dependent on the media for any pubic
exposure

and yet unable to prevent the media from denigrating and trivialising politics.
He calls for the media

to

deepen the

democratic debate by creating a civic journalism



which
d
efies its own natural instincts


to make celebrities of itself; which acts as a
n
adjunct to history and reflection; which presents to its audience first drafts of history
which are absorbing and subtle, strong on narrative but attentive to the complexity and
context of every story; which is not struggling with political power, but st
ruggling,
together with that power’s best instincts, to make the contemporary world at once
comprehensible and open to the participation of its citizens. (Lloyd, p 203).



Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political edit
or,
responding

in his 2006
Geddes
L
ecture at
Oxford University, argued that television news and politics in the UK were in an uneasy
marriage, with both sides dissatisfied with their relationship, yet bound together in mutual
interdependence

because both needed each other
.

The breakdown of trust bet
ween the
politicians, the media, and the public h
as been commented on by a number of
official
r
eports. For example, the Independent
Review of Government Communications (2004)
commented on the ‘adversarial nature of the relationship between government, poli
ticians
and the media.’ It asked whether the ‘two parties are now locked into an introspective
cycle of mutual distrust from which i
t is impossible to escape?’


M
ore recently, the Rowntree

Trust’s

report,
Power

to the People: An

Inquiry into
Britain’s De
mocracy (2006)
,

examined the
reasons for people’s
declining interest in
taking part in democracy. It rej
ected
the view that

it was the negative news media which

put people off

politics; rather it was the lack of engagement of citizens in the processes

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of

formal democracy, the lack of real policy alternatives, and the unfair electoral
and
voting system. People
actively
want
ed

the news media to question those in power
.


The Promise of

Internet

Democracy


For a period, it seemed that the arrival of the inte
rnet as a medium of political
communication would transform the debate on media malaise. I
n its early years, many
commentators argued
that

the internet held the promise of

resolv
ing

the dilemma
grappled with by Lippmann and Dewey


how to restore
democracy

in the age of mass
communications.
Some

argued that the internet would make direct democracy
possible
and
lead to
citizen empowerment.
(Toffler 1995, Negroponte 1995
,

Rheingold 1995
,

and
Dyson 1997)
For Dick Morris

(2000)
, the internet was
likely to reduc
e the

power of
elected officials through the use of
direct voting and referendums. Others saw the internet
as inherently dangerous to democracy, either because it would erode soc
ial capital and
community ties (Etzioni, 1999), deter civil debate and discour
se (Sunstein 2001), or
allow the government to control its structure and monitor citizens (Lessig, 1999).

The
most influential cautionary voice was

that

of Cass
Sunstein, who argued that the
danger
of the internet for politics was selective filtering. Peop
le would choose to get only the
kind of political news that

suited their own prejudices. They would personalise the
internet to creat
e

a

‘Daily Me’
instead of a ‘Daily News’
and the role of the media as a
kind of ‘collective commons’ where all points of vi
ew were heard would be diminished.
This could lead diminish the collective political community, fragment debate and ma
ke
citizens less well
-
informed.



14

The Normalisation Hypothesis

As more people began to use the internet, rese
arch studies increasingly sugg
ested
that the
internet was

neither revolutionary nor disastrous for democracy; rather, it reinforced the
status quo. In this view, the online world reproduced both the media world and the
political world. Existing political parties, rather than outsiders,

were best able to
capitalise on the potential of the internet, and existing media organisations migrated to
online sites where they still dominated political communications
.


A growing

digital
di
vide meant that the better off
and politically active benefi
ted most from the internet.
(Bimber and Davis

2003; Owen and Bimber 2004; Margolis and Resnick, 2000; Nye,
2000).


Three key issues arose from this research: whether the internet was being used as
a
substitute or a supplement

to the conventional news media
; whether there was any
evidence of
disintermediation,

the ability of political parties to communicate directly with
the electorate and supporters without having to use the mass media
; and whether the
internet was
merely
reinforcing

existing political
atti
tudes
,
mobilising

people to further
political
engagement, or reaching new groups.

Writing after the 2000 US election, Bruce
Bimber and Richard Davis predicted that in
future
elections ‘the internet will solidify as a
niche communication directed at highly
specific audiences’ which ‘will offer campaigns
new tools to mobilise activists’ but will not ‘produce the mobilisation of voters long
predicted’ and will expand the divide ‘between those who are political activists and those
who are not.’ They also argued

that the ‘fact that the internet supplements and augments
the mass media rather than replacing them’ mitigates the tendency for fragmentation of
audience feared by Sunstein.



15

Norris, in her book
Virtuous Circle
, attempted to take a position midway between

the
optimists and pessimists. She argued that it was possible that the internet could be both
reinforcing existing political activism and encouraging more, especially as the digital
divide diminishes. And she pointed that that the internet has the potenti
al to restore some
elements of the pre
-
industrial form of personal communication as well as a mass medium.


Using the News Media Online: Widening or Lessening Political Knowledge?

A
parallel body of

research has focused on whether a switch to online
source
s of news
will
reduce the level of polit
ical understanding to the detriment of democracy.

In an
experimental study,
Tewks
bury
(2000)
compared
the political knowledge of

a group of

students who read an onlin
e and an offline version of
The
New York Times
. H
e found that
those who read the online edition tended to look at fewer stories and be able to recall
fewer news events that happened during the experimental period. He argued that this was
a function of the fact that online readers could select stories the
mselves and received
fewer clues through headlines as to what was important.

Tewksb
ury

(2003) followed this
u
p with a larger study that tracked
what stories people actually viewed on a range of news
websites
He found that less than half of his sample of on
line news viewers
a
c
cessed
‘public affairs’ stories about world, national, local or political news
, desp
ite the fact that
they claimed that was the type of news they wanted to view.

And in another
experimental design, Iyengar (2004) showed that, if given
the choice of different types of
political news, participants preferred news about the ‘horserace’ (who was ahead and
why) to news about the issues, the candidates, or anything else.


16

.
But others argued the internet had several advantages for news consumers
. One study
argued tha
t

the

nature of the online newspaper layout that made it easier to skim the
news without flicking through lots of pages and gave people the satisfaction o
f ‘scanning’
headlines quickly

(Lin et al 2003a).
One study reported
that peo
ple found online news
sources more credible than identical offline sources (Johnson, 1998)

A
nother

pointed out
that, even if people gained less factual knowledge from onl
ine news, they understood

the
connections
between differe
nt news items because of h
ype
rlinks
,

which provide a broad
er
context to frame

the news

thematically
.

(Eveland, 2004).


One

set of studie
s suggested that people who surfed for political news were more
politically engaged and more likely to vote. In one study, people who used the intern
et
to
seek poli
tical information between 1996 and 2000 reported that they had become more
interested in the presidential campaign, more likely to vote, and felt they had more power
to bring about political change (Johnson 2003). And another study over the
same period
found that people with access to the internet, and online election news readers, were
significantly more likely to vote, even when controlling for a wide range of variables
such as class, race, education or political partisanship. (Tolbert et a
l, 2003).

How, Markus Prior (2005)

suggested that it was almost certainly the case that, given

the
increased choice offered by the internet, more people would choose
not

to read any news
at all.

He demonstrated that those who preferred entertainment to ne
ws were less
politically knowledgeable, and less likely to vote, when they had access to either cable
television or the internet. And he argued that television news, at the time when 90% of
the population watched it,
had done

a better job o
f spreading poli
tical knowledge widely
.

17

The internet
had the paradoxical effect of in
c
r
easing

political knowledge and
participation for one group, while diminishing for another.

In a high
-
choice environment, lack of motivation, not lack of skills or resources, poses
the
main obsta
cle to a widely informed public

(Prior, p 577)

And Harvard economist Andrei Shleifer has

taken things
a step further, by arguing that,
in a world of choice, low barriers to entry, and widely differing political views, the news
media will naturall
y tend to become more polarised.

Competition generally reduces newspaper prices, but does not reduce, and may even
exaggerate media bias

powerful forces motivate news providers to slant and increase
bias r
ather than clear up confusion.
(Mullainathan and S
hleifer, 2005)

However, this pessimistic position has been attacked from two sides. From the sup
ply
side, Hindman (2006a) pointed

out that in reality the internet is more highly concentrated
as a source of political news than the offline world. Rather t
han

a proliferation of sources,

users with limited t
ime and limited experience only

find a limited range of news
providers,

whether you look at political news, political information sites, or blogs
.

From the demand side, Graber (2004)

argued

that limits on p
eople’s inherent
information
-
processing capabilities have been ignored when considering the
impact of
political news.
People do not necessarily retain all the information on which their
opinions are based. Graber argues that we must abandon the ideal type
of the fully
informed citizen and be content to settle for the ‘monitorial citizen’ who merely ‘survey
s

the political scene carefully enough to detect major threats to themselves or th
eir
communities’. And she suggests

that the need for s
uch political news

is cyclical


and
much greater in times of crisis such as the disputed Presidential election of 2000 or the
terrorist attacks of 9/11.


18


Internet and Democracy in the UK


Most studies of the internet and politics in the UK support the normalisation hypothe
sis.

A study by John Curtice and Pippa Norris (2004), compared attitudes to political activity
for internet users and others, based on the British Social Attitudes Survey in 2000 and
2003. They found that education, rather than internet experience, was th
e key variable in
explaining political trust (which was found to be higher among internet users), and in
explaining attitudes towards political and personal efficacy. They also find that the main
effect of internet use on political activism is to deepen th
e commitment of those who are
alre
ady interested in politics. They
also questioned whether t
he internet was mobilising
young people to be politically active.

However, the normalisation hypothesis was partially challenged by Gibson, Lusoli, and
Ward (2005
). They found that the net was offering a space for political engagement
among those who would not have otherwise been politically active, especially the young.
They emphasised the importance
of
distinguishing between online and offline political
activity,

and pointed out for the latter, the importance of web skill
s

and experience over
social class, education, and gend
er as an explanatory variable.

Gennaro and Dutton (2006) explored the relationship between online and offline political
activity more broadly
, using the Oxford Internet Survey (OXIS) of 2005 and 2003. They
found that 37% of internet users had carried out an act of political participation online, as
opposed to 32% of the whole population who had engaged in offline political activism.
They found
that both online and offline activism was related to higher education and
higher social class, with a greater division online than offline. However, the two groups

19

did not completely overlap, as only 53% of online participants reported also taking part in
offline activities. They concluded that the internet can increase participation at the
margin, especially for the young, for whom 48% said they would turn first to the internet
to find political information. And they argued that
as people became more expe
rienced
web users, they were more likely to seek political information online. Thus

efforts to
increase web literacy could yield increases in political participation across the board.


Turning to the use of the internet for political information during the

2005 General
Election,
Ward and Lusoli (2005a) found that
it was
still only used by a minority of UK
citizens to find out information about politics (15% of the population, or 28% of internet
users). However
,

this was double the number in 2001 for most i
ndicators. The most
popular use of the internet for election information was visiting a media website (22%),
followed by searching for election information (17%), and sending or receiving emails
(13%). Only a small fraction of users, however, engaged in el
ection
-
related online
activities or visited party websites. Most people used the internet because it was
convenient, up
-
to
-
date, or on all the time


but around 25% said they were specially
looking for election results. The authors concluded that the inter
net was becoming
increasingly influential, with 19% saying that the internet helped them make their mind
up how to vote, compared to only 6% in 2001. And they noted its continued importance
to the young, who were both the heaviest users and also most conv
inced that they had
been influenced by the internet. Those seeking political news on the internet were
disproportionately male, young, university
-
educated, and in higher social grades
.
.


20

Another study by the same authors (Ward and Lusoli, 2005b), showed the

limited

online
role played by

direct unmediated communicat
ion from political parties in th
e 2005
General Election

They found that party websites had little changed since the 2001
election, and

were still relatively unsophisticated and included few

interac
tive features.
They were mainly aimed at recruiting more party activists or encouraging fundraising.
There had been an increase in 2005 in local campaign websites, but many were “cookie
-
cutter” sites based on party templates or not updated regularly..


B
lo
gging appears to have

had a relatively small effect in the UK General Election
. Nigel
Jackson (2005) concluded that “blogs from political actors, commentators and the media
provided an interesting backdrop, but not one which appears to have had a significa
nt
effect”.
Stanyer and Sansom

(
2005) found that few visited political blogs, and argued

that
the “blogsphere was an electronic speakers corner with very few speakers.”

In their summary article on the internet and the 2005 election, Downey and Stanyer
stro
ngly back the normalisation thesis that the internet reinforced existing patterns of
political communication and mobilisation, appealing to the already
-
active, with little
evidence of effective direct communication by the main parties, and with the media
s
phere dominated by the existing offline news provider
s.

(Downey, 2005)

Looking at the role of the media more broadly during the 2005
election itsel
f, Pippa
Norris (2005)
compare
d

the impact of exposure to mass media

(TV)
, people
-
intensive
channels (local
canvassing), and new technology (internet) in explaining vo
ting
behaviour.

She sought to explain priming effects (how the political agenda chan
ged),
persuasion (
perceptions of government competence), an
d mobilising effects (voting
).

She
found no channel h
ad influenced agenda setting. The mass media had played a role i
n


21

persuasion,

increasing the perception of Labour’s compete
nce during the campaign. The
internet channel did have a limited

mobilising effect, making people more lik
ely to vote.
She con
cluded
that no single channel was mo
st effective, but suggest
ed

that more
research was

needed, particu
larly on the
internet channels.

The
Disconnected Campaign

Any

evaluation of internet election news
needs to be s
een in the context of the who
l
e

media campaig
n in

the 2005 General Election. There was a bigger disconnect than ever
before between the agendas of the public, the media and the parties. (Gabor, Wring)

The parties sought to bypass the national media altogether by going out of London, using
the regional
press, and appearing on morning and afternoon TV and radio talk shows. The
press scaled down its coverage, with the tabloid press barely covering the election
at all
between its announcement and polling day. Even television news, which had expanded its
new
s bulletins by an extra 10 minutes in 2001, scaled back
some
coverage, no longer
televising Election Call.
(Scammell, Gabor)
And for the public, the election a
ppeared to
be a switch
-
off

with
40% said they were following the campaign closely (Ofcom, 2005
).

Motivated by both distrust of the national press in particular, and the development of new
styles of campaigning, the importance of the media as the central battleground appears to
be declining (Gabor)


The parties sought to target only the voters in ma
rginal constituencies, and adopted ‘dog
-
whistle’ techniques of trying to reach the committed with messages they hoped would be
ignored by the mass of voters, and concentrated on the ‘ground war’ at the local level.

There
was also little agreement
between t
he parties, the media and the
public as to the
key issues.

They all had different
agenda
s

in what Gabor called an

‘autistic campaign.’


22


CHAPTER THREE: FOL
LOWING THE GENERAL ELECTION ONLINE


In th
e 2005 General Election, o
ne in four voters wat
ched electio
n

news
online. The
audience h
as increased dramatically since

20
01. The vast majority made use

of the BBC
News website, which had three
-
quarters of the

election news online

market. The internet
election news audience was younger, more educated and more af
fluent than average, and
also more engaged in civic and political activity. It generally expressed satisfaction with
internet news, and also reported increased interest in politics and current affairs.


Viewing

the General Election Online

The web audience

for political news expanded substantially during the General Election.

Around
27% of the population went online for election news, or around 40% of all
internet users. The numbers viewing news online during the election have tripled since
the 2001 electio
n, when 7% used the internet for political information and 11% visited a
media website (Coleman and Hall, 2001).This is a striking increase in audience when
most other sources of political news are declining. For example, the audience for
television news b
ulletins has declined by 10% since 1994, with a 25% decline among
young people; while total national newspaper readership has dropped by 25% over the
last 40 years, with one
-
third fewer people regularly reading a national newspaper now
than twenty years ag
o. (Hargreaves, 2002; British Social Attitudes Survey, 1985, 2004;
BBC Audience Research)

The expansion is even more remarkable given that the overall numbers using the internet
in Britain has only grown slowly, from 58% in 2003 to 61% in 2005. (OXIS, 200
5)


23

What is driving the increase in news viewing? The most important factor in the UK is
probably the rapid spread of broadband, high
-
speed internet connections, which increased
extremely rapidly in this period (from 19% of all online homes in 2003 to 59%
in 2005).
Broadband users, who do not pay a per
-
minute charge for internet use, log on more often
and stay online longer. And they were much more likely to go online for election news.

HOW PEOPLE ACCESS INTERNET ELECTION NEWS

% of internet
election news
us
ers


Dial
-
up Broadband At Work ALL

% of each category

33%

47%

43%

41%

% of
total audience

29%

71%

63%*

100%

Source: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May 2005, fieldwork 6
-
16 May 2005

*people
can access from work and home; not mutually exclusive


Another factor that increased the take
-
up of internet election news is the growing number
of people who have access to the internet at work, school or college, which increased
from one
-
quarter to one
-
t
hird between 2003 and 2005 (OXIS). Two
-
thirds of the internet
election news audience looked online at work as well as from home. And a third factor is
experience


people who have used the internet longer t
end to access more functions. By

2005 46% of inter
net users had been online more than 2

years, and

16% for five years.

Audience characteristics

The General Election internet news audience is clearly distinctive from other news
audiences. It is younger, more affluent, and more politically engaged. For exam
ple,
nearly 4 in ten are under 34 years old (compared to a quarter of the population as a
whole), 70%
are
middle class (social class ABC1), and 58% educated to A
-
level standard
or above (compared to 36% of the population). The internet political news audie
nce is
somewhat more male (59%
-
41%). It is more likely to contain people working full
-
time

24

(57%, as opposed to 44% overall) or students (17% of the online audience), and far less
likely to contain people who are retired (6% vs. 23% of the whole population
).

DEMOGRAPHICS OF INTERNET ELECTION NEWS AUDIENCE

% of total election news audience in each category

AGE INTERNET USERS ALL

Younger (18
-
34)

41%

28%

Middle
-
aged (35
-
54)

36%

35%

Older (55+)

13%

34%

INCOME*



Lower (less than 15,500)


25%

40%

Middle (15,500
-
30,000)


25%

25%

Higher (30,000+)


50%

35%

EDUCATION



Higher (A Level/College)

58%

36%

Lower

42%

64%

SOCIAL CLASS



Middle class (ABC1)

70%

54%

Working class (C
2DE)

30%

46%

Sources: UK: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, fieldwork 6
-
16 May 2005

*income figures adjusted for 30% who did not report income


These differences are largely a reflection of the ‘digital divide’, the fact that 40% of the
population
lack access to the internet, and they are disproportionately the old, the poor,
and the less well
-
educated. (OXIS 2005; Norris, 2001). These differences are gradually
diminishing; for example, the falling cost of computers and internet connections has
red
uced the differential use rate between rich and poor. Increased public access, in
schools and libraries has also helped, as will improved compute
r literacy and experience.
T
here also seems to be ‘cohort effect’, with young people adopting the internet more

quickly than older people, so that over time internet use will continue

to grow steadily but
slowly.
Not everyone wants to be online. Just one in five non
-
users say they plan to
acquire internet access in the next year, and 8% of the population are

now

fo
rmer users.





25


Political Engagement of Online News Audience



The online election audience is also more politically engaged than the overall audience,


It is more interested in finding o
ut ‘news and information about
issues facing the
country’,


news on
politics

, and

news about the gener
al election’ than average. I
t is
more likely to have voted in the General Election, and say that watching the news has
encouraged them to discuss politics and current affairs
more
with friends a
nd family. And
they are m
ore likely to take part in a range of civic activities, from

lobbying MPs to
joining local organisations to
writing letters to the editor.

The internet users compare
quite in their attitudes to the group identified by the BBC survey as political activists
,
who had done at least 5 of the 10 civic activities. In fact, they were
more

likely to say
t
hey were interested in politics than activists. This may reflect research that shows young
people
are
interested in politics, but not Westminister politics or elec
tions. (Kevill, 2003).

POLITICAL ATTITUDES: ACTIVISTS AND INTERNET USERS


How interested would you say you are in news about..


Political Activists Internet Users


All

Politics

82

88
*
*

68

General Election

74

69

61

Issues facing UK

61

53

42

Voted in Gen Elec*

82

76

72

Source: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May 2005; % saying very or fairly interested (%
saying very interested only for question on ‘issues facing the country’)

*self rep
orted, excludes don’t knows, can’t remember and would not say

**statistically significant

at p=05

Online news seekers are

more active than t
he population as a whole on the

range of civic
activities. For example, 35% of those viewing election news on the w
eb said they had
‘urged someone outside my family to vote’, 29% had helped in fundraising drives, 26%

26

had made a speech before an organised group, 23% had presented their views to a local
councillor or MP, and 11% said they had taken an active part

in a po
litical campaign.


SOCIAL ACTIVISTS AND INTERNET NEWS USERS: A COMPARISON

Which if any of these things did you do in the last two or three years?

% of each group


Political Activists Internet Users Whole populati
on

Lobbied MP or councillor

65

23

18

Wrote to newspaper

35

13


8

Urged someone to vote

61

35

20

Urged others to lobby MP

67

24

17

Made a speech

61

26

17

Been an officer of club

59

15

11

Stood for public office

6

2


1

Active role in campaign

1
8

11


5

Helped with fundraising

64

29


24

Voted in an

election

90

75


65

NONE OF THE ABOVE

-

19


20

Source: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May 2005; % of people who did them

Political activists N=154 all who did at least five of the list of 10 activiti
es above

Internet Users N=267 all those who accessed the internet to view election news


Compared to the general public, internet users were more likely to be playing an active
role in a c
ampaign, and urging someone outside
in your family to vote, while th
ey were
less likely to help with fundraising, stand for office or join a club. Taking into account
the age
difference between activists and internet user
s, this paints a political picture of
internet users who are not ‘joiners’ (and may not have the same
dense social networks of
the older social activists), but like to seek an active voice in politics, putting forward their
point of view or persuading others as well as voting themselves. The differences are
statistically significant, and more a
ctive people

are
, the more likely they are to use
internet election news. So the internet news audience are very much ‘persuaders’ rat
her
than the ‘persuaded’, an important
group in the electorate who i
nfluence others how to
vote. They should be the
key

target of
pol
itical
parties

seeking votes

in the election.



27



Malaise,
Mobilisation or Reinforcement

The evidence so far
points awa
y from the ‘media malai
se’ hypothesis. Increased media
use goes hand
-
in
-
hand with

engagement in politics
.

Internet news seekers

are
more

interested in p
olitics and more likely to vote than average.

But does the internet independently
boost political participation? One argument is that
the internet is merely
reinforcing

the political interest and activity of those

already
politically engage
d.


If this hypothesis were correct, the political attitudes of socio
-
political activists would be same whether they were internet users or not. On another
view, the internet
is
mobilising
new groups, particularly the young, who have not been
active in pol
itics before. If this view is correct, the internet would have a greater effect
on the political attitudes of young people who had not yet been socialised into politics.
Of course, these two effects are not mutually exclusive, as Pippa Norris points out
in her
concept of the ‘virtuous circle.
’ It is difficult to prove

whether the internet is the cause
or effect of increased poli
tical mobilisation
, and whether it is affecting internet viewers as
a whole, as just the group of the most politically active u
sers.

O
ur survey does provide
some intriguing clues that suggest that political mobilisation as well as reinforcement is
going on. The most important act of political mobilisation is voting. And our survey
suggests that using internet political news has a
powerful effect on the likelihood of

young

people actually turning out to vote. Using the internet
doubles the likelihoo
d that
18
-
24 year
-
olds will use their ballot
.
This is an important finding when the turnout for
young peopl
e
reached a
new low in the

G
eneral Election.


28



ELECTORAL TURNOUT

AND INTERNET USE

%

not voting at the General Election


18
-
24 All

Internet news users

24%

24%

Not internet news users

48%*

28
%

Source
: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May 2005

*Statistically significant at the P=0.001 level


Secondly, we
can turn to political attitudes and internet use, and see whether viewing
internet news b
oosts interest in politics over
-
and
-
above the effect of being an
activist.

The evidence suggests that for two out of the three political attitude variables (interest in
politics, and interest in issues facing the country) there are additional, statistically
significant effects


or boosts
-

from viewing news online.

I
NTEREST IN POLITICS

How interested are you in politics?


Internet news users Not internet news user

Political activist

2.4

2.1

Not political activist

2.1

1.7

Source: BBC/MORI Citizenship S
urvey, May 2005; Mean scores on a 4 point scale
(4=very interested 3=somewhat interested 2=not very interested 0=not interested)


INTEREST IN ISSUES FACING THE COUNTRY

How interested in you in news and information about issues facing the country?



Internet news users Not internet news user

Political activist

2.
7

2.5

Not political activist

2.5

2.3

Source: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May 2005; Mean scores on a 4 point scale

(4=very intere
sted 3=somewhat interested 2=not very interested 0=not interested)


INTEREST IN THE GENERAL ELECTION

How interested in you in news and information about the recent General Election?


Internet news users

Not internet news user

Political activist

2.1

1.9

Not political activist

1.8

1.7

Source: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May 2005; Mean scores on a 4 point scale

(4=very interested 3=somewhat interested 2=not very interested 0=not interest
ed)



29


Interestingly, the relationship does not hold statistically for the third question, ‘interest in
news about the rece
nt General Election’. This may because those who viewed internet
election news
were by definition interested in the general election,

since they had chosen
to access the internet for this purpose, and received no strong additional boost.

Self
-
reported media influence

A third way to

discover the effects of the internet on political action is to ask the question
directly. The

BBC

s
u
rvey
contained
five questions on whether ‘watching, listening or
reading the news during the election camp
aign’ improved civic understanding.


SELF
-
REPORTED MEDIA INFLUENCE
: ACTIVISTS AND INTERNET USERS

As a result of watching, listening or reading news during
the election campaign from the
BBC are you more likely to..


Political Activists Internet Users All

Be interested in finding out
about issues facing the UK

0.30

0.54
*

0.37

Talk about current news
with family and

friends

0.62

0.71
*


0.57

Take more of an interest in
news and current affairs

0.69

0.70

0.64

Make up my mind on
controversial issues

0.68

0.68

0.68

Keep well informed about
things I care about

1.56

1.49
*

1.39

Source: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May
2005; Mean scores on a 5 point scale
(2=agree strongly 1=agree 0=neither
-
1=disagree
-
2=disagree strongly)

base= all who had any contact with the BBC (n=897)

*statistically significant at p=.05


The online news audience was more likely than the activists

to say that they had become
more interested in politics as a result of vi
ewing the news in three areas:
the
y were more
likely to keep informed about things they cared about
; to talk to friends and famil
y about
current news and events;

and were more intere
sted in news about issues facing the UK.


30

Again controlling for political activism, the research

showed that exposure

to the internet,
separately from where one st
ood on the scale of socio
-
political activism, had a
statistically significant effect on the an
swers to these three questions.

A problem with the answers to these questions, however, was is that they refer to medi
a
influence as a whole, not
the direct influence of viewing the news
on the internet.

However, another survey

that asked
this question

di
rectly

found a strong age
-
related
effect. Young people more likely to say they been encouraged to vote and helped to make
a better electoral choice as a result of using the internet, while
two
-
thirds of the young,
and half of all

internet news users report
ed some effect..



INFLUENCE OF THE INTERNET ON ELECTION BEHAVIOUR

%

of internet news users saying they were influenced


Under 35 Over 35 ALL

More interest in election

22.3%

1
5%

18.4%

Helped make better choice

24.2%*

12.4%

17.8%

Encouraged to vote

18.9%*

6.2%

16.2%

Confirmed vote decision

18.2%

14.5%

9.3%

Changed vote decision

4.0%

1.9%

3.5%

Encouraged to vote tactically

4.0%

3.1%

2.9%

Encouraged to campaign

2.1%

0.9%

1.5
%

Any of the above

62.7%*

43.8%

51.5%

*statistically significant difference between young and old

Source: Ward and Lusoli, 2005, p 19, table 4



Multiple channels of influence

The internet audience does not rely on online news alone during the General El
ection.
People rely on multiple sources, particularly among the politically active, including
television, radio, and newspapers, as well as political literature

and conversations with
friends
.

For the population as a whole, television is the most important

source of election
news, cited by 61% of the sample, followed by newspapers (18%), radio (10%) and the

31

internet (5%). However,

internet users themselves significantly downgrade the
importance of television (to 48%) and put the internet (14%) ahead of rad
io and not

v
ery
far behind newspapers. B
oth internet users and political activists are more likely to turn
to newspapers

for political coverage

than the public at large.

PREFERRED MEDIA FOR ELECTION COVERAGE

Where did you turn to first for coverage of the
election?


Political Activists Internet Users


All

Television

47

45

61

Radio

16

12

12

Internet


7

14


4

Newspapers

27

28

21

Source: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May 2005; % of to
tal


It is also interesting that even young people do not generally turn first to the internet for
election coverage; they

prefer television
,

just as the whole population does
. However,
older people are
more likely to look to newspapers first for political

coverage.

PREFERRED MEDIA FOR ELECTION COVERAGE
,

BY AGE

Where did you turn to first for coverage of the election?

% of population 18
-
34 35
-
54 55+

Television

61

60

61

Radio

10

16


9

Internet


7


4


1

Newspapers

19

18

24

Source: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May 2005


Looking at a broader measure of

media use,
we can see the striking differences between
the generations in the use of the internet; one in four of the young, but just one in ten of
th
e old,
looked at online election coverage

at some time during the campaign
. It is also
noticeable that, alt
hough young people are turning

to

the internet more, they are not using
other sources any less
.

Nor does ot
her media use vary dramatically

by age.




32


OVERALL
MEDIA USE AT THE GENERAL ELECTION
,

BY AGE

Which of the following media did you turn to for coverage of the General Election?


% of population 18
-
34 35
-
54


55+

Any televisio
n

83

90

86

Any radio

43

53

44

Any Internet

40

28

10

Any newspapers

63

57

68

Source: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May 2005;


An examination of the channel

consumption patterns of young and old during the election
campaign does reveal some differences.

Young people are more likely to access
television news via digital channels that offer 24 hour news like BBC N24 and Sky, and
less likely to view the news on BB1. They also listen to Radio 1 or local commercial
radio rather than Radio 4. And they are some
what more likely to access news via other
new digital media, such as interactive TV (using the red button) or mobile phones.

ELECTION MEDIA CHANNELS USED, BY AGE

% of population ever using channel for election news


18
-
34 35
-
54 55+

BBC1

64

71

76

Sky News

24

20

12

BBC News 24

27

25

21

Radio 1

17


6


2

Radio 4

14

23

26

Local com. radio

13

13


7

Internet

40

28

10

Interactive TV

15

15

10

Mobile phone


4

--

--

Source:

BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May 2005


Replacing or supplementing the news?


Is it likely that the internet will substitute for, rather than supplement, other news
sources? One theory suggests as the internet becomes more popular, it will
replace

other
m
edia, so people who use the internet will be less likely to view other news sources.
Another idea is that it will s
upplement

existing news sources, so that overall internet

33

users will have the same amount of media exposure. A final possibility is that int
ernet
news use will
augment

their news coverage by also adding internet sources, so that the
total amount of news watched will go

up
. If replacement is happening, it is often
suggested that it would be more likely to be found among young people who have n
ot yet
formed firm habits of news watching. On the evidence presented here, for the election
news audience the internet is supplem
enting rather than replacing other

news

outlets
.
Young people are still using the same sources, but adding the internet. And
web users are
even more likely to use multiple media sources than the population as a whole.


Overall, however, it may be that
internet use as a whole

is reducing the amount of time
available for other media use, especially for experienced users who are on
line

many

hours each day. The OXIS survey suggests that more than one
-
quarter of internet users
(28%) say they are watching less television, and 13% say that they are reading fewer
newspapers and magazines. On the other hand, one in five report that they h
ave accessed
newspapers or news services online that they do not r
ead in print. (Dutton, 2005).


The internet news landscape

Although internet news viewers use many different sources of news, the internet news
universe during th
e el
ection was dominated b
y one source

-

the

BBC news website
.

It
was accessed by 78% of all those who viewed online election news


more than those
who viewed the top 5 other

election

news websi
tes combined
. The second most popular
site, Guardian Politics Unlimited, was accessed b
y 16% of online viewers. Close behind
were those sites which aggregate news from other sources (inc
luding MSN, Ya
hoo and
Google). Overall,
search engine sites were accessed by 32% of the internet news

34

audience, while newspaper sites as a who
le reached 25%
.

Only 14% of users accessed
any political part
y websites during the campaign, and only 2% looked at blogs. On this
evidence

disintermediation

is largely a myth, and
political parties

will continue to have
to rely on the mainstream media to reach

the bulk
of

voters online


MOST POPULAR ELECTION WEBSITES, 2005 GENERAL ELECTION

%ever viewing this news source during the General Election


% internet audience % total audience

BBC News

78%

22%

Guard
ian

16%


4%

Google News

15%


4%

Any Party website

14%


3%

MSN

13%


3%

Yahoo

11%


3%

Sky

8%


2%

Channel 4

8%


2%

CNN

7%


2%

ITV

7%


2%

Times Online

7%


2%

Electoral Commission

5%


1%

Any Weblog

2%


Less than 0.5%

Source: BBC/MORI citizenship su
rvey, fieldwork 6
-
16 May 2005


The dominance of the BBC News website means that, as a single channel of
communication, it provides an election news audience larger than
that of
any newspaper,
and equal in size to the Radio 4, Channel 4 News, and Sky and BB
C News 24 audiences.

Other election news websites attracted audiences
with particular characteristics.

Those looking at political
news on search engine

sites, for example, tended to have a
higher proportion of working class viewers with lower educational q
ualifications, while
the opposite was true for those who looked at newspaper websites.

Political activists were
more likely to look at Channel 4 News and political party websites
as well as the BBC. Young people also seemed slightly more drawn to search en
gine sites
like Yahoo or Google, and the middle
-
aged (35
-
54) to political parties. Slightly more

35

online news viewers read quality newspapers than tabloids; they were particularly
attracted to the Guardian site, while tabloid readers tended to look at Googl
e and
ITV.com. The small numbers in the sample, however, make it difficult t
o attribute too
much significance

to these tr
ends, although the attractiveness of search engines is clear.


Reasons for viewing online election news

Previous research has identifie
d convenience and timeliness as the key factors that drive
most people to view election news online (Ward and Lusoli, 2005). The BBC audience
election survey did not ask about convenience, but it did find that ‘getting the latest news
on the political cam
paign’ was the top reason for going online. Other strong drivers were
a desire to get information on party policies (59%), local candidates (49%) and election
results (47%). This suggests that straightforward information
-
seeking, as well as getting
the la
test news, were seen as the central functions of internet news. Finding out
background information, such as historical information or the state of opinion polls,
elicited a middle level of response (31% and 27% respectively). And information about
voting
procedures and a desire for interactivity (to express views or ask a question) were
much less frequently mentioned by the public.


Main r
e
a
sons why used any electoral

web

sites


%

N

To get the latest news on the election campaign

70

193

To get informati
on on political parties' policies

59

164

To ge
t

information on local area or local candidates

49

135

To find out the election results

47

131

To

find out the latest opinion polls

31

87

To find out historical information

27

75

To get information about t
he voting process

12

34

To express views or ask a question

11

29

No reasons to go online

2

6

Other reason to go online

1

4


36

Source: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May 2005

Multiple answers allowed

However, the reasons for visiting websites were quite diff
erent for those who visited
BBC News website only, for those who viewed only other news websites during the
election, and for those who viewed both BBC and other sites. This suggests that there
may be multiple, and different types of audiences for differen
t websites.

Reported reasons to visit specific election websites


BBC news
only

BBC news +
one other
website

Other site(s)
only

To get the latest news on the election campaign

62

78

65

To get information on political parties' policies

38

79

46

To get i
nformation on local area or local candidates

46

58

32

To find out the election results

57

48

33

To find out the latest opinion polls

33

32

29

To find out historical information

22

35

18

To get information about the voting process

9

16

8

To express vie
ws or ask a question

3

16

11

No reasons to go online

2

1

5

Other reason to go online


1

4

Source: BBC/MORI Citizenship Survey, May 2005

Multiple answers allowed


T
hese figures suggest that
those visited more than one website for election news had
differ
ent needs from those who

just visited the BBC Ne
ws website alone.
Those who got
information from multiple websites wanted more in
-
depth background information on a
range of topics, from

party policies to

finding out historical informa
tion to expressing
t
heir views, while those just using the BBC site were particularly interested in election
results.
One interpretation of this data is that
the audience

di
vides into light users, who
visited the BBC website alone

for
the latest
news and election results
, and

a group of
heavyweight
users, who used mu
ltiple websites and had complex

information needs.




37

This impression accords with a cluster analysis of the general BBC News website
audience carried out by BMRB in October 2004. It attempted to break down the audi
ence
into a number of subgroups. Two groups, making up 25% of the audience, stand out, as
partic
ularly heavy news users.

‘Professional news junkies’ (13%) were the heaviest
users. They tended to be professional men, age 25
-
44, accessing from work, and w
ere
experienced users who used multiple news sources. Another key group were
characterised as ‘hi
-
tech chatterers.’ (12%). They were younger, accessed more from
home broadband connections, and liked to read about or post opinions online. They also
preferr
ed the internet to television news. In contrast, there was a larger group (60%) of
less frequent users. These included ‘offline news seekers’ (20%, older, less experienced),
‘entertainment hedonists’ (20%, who mainly viewed headlines or news about celebrit
ies),
and ‘teletext addicts’ (20%, family
-
oriented, and mainly used teletext TV news), while
‘news avoiders’ (14%) would only use the internet for major news events. (BBC 2004)


BBC NEWS WEBSITE AUDIENCE BY TYPE, 2004



% of BBC website audience

NEWS JUNKIES

Professionals at office

13%

HI
-
TECH CHATTERERS

Young, broadband, home

12%

OFFLINE NEWS USERS

Older, inexperienced

21%

TELETEXT USERS

Children, at home

20%

HEDONISTS

Working class, ents driven

20%

NEWS AVOIDERS

Young, poor, just headlines

14%

SOURCE: BBC/BMRB REPORT, OCTOBER 2004, CLUSTER ANALYSIS



Satisfaction with Online News coverage


T
he internet web audience was more satisfied with election coverage
than the television
audience. Two
-
thirds (68%) said that website election news was the same as expected,
while 25% said it was better than expected. And 90% said the amount of coverage was

38

‘about right’, with 7% saying there was ‘too little’. In co
ntrast
,
43% of the television
audience said there was too much coverage, and just 52% s
aid the amount was ‘about
right
,


according to Ofcom audience research (Ofcom, 2005, p 16). One quarter of the
television au
dience
changed channels when election news came on.

T
he BBC website
also had the highest

rating in terms of audience satisfaction, although
substanti
al numbers reported that no
site was the best. Overall, half the sample (53%)
said the BBC website was the best overall, followed by MSN (5%), the Guardian
Unl
imited (4%), Google, Sky and Yahoo (3% each). About one in five said none.

The survey also asked which sites were best at different functions. The BBC performed
strongly in the areas of ‘providing accurate and impartial information’(51%); ‘providing
dept
h and analysis’(49%); ‘covering issues relevant to you’ (49%); ‘keeping up with the
latest election news’ (48%); ‘explaining election issues in a way I can understand’ (46%);
‘finding out election results‘(43%); and ‘helping understand what the different p
arties
stood for’ (42%). Although not rated as highly, other sites gained appreciation for
particular features in their niche markets. The Guardian site was rated stronger than its
average rating on ‘depth’ and ‘relevance’, while MSN scored for timeliness

and
explaining issues simply. Political party sites were mainly seen as useful for providing
voting information and party positions. One striking weakness was the poor performance
of the

other
newspaper websites, the Election Commission site, and CNN, who

were not
rated best by anyone in
the sample.

However, the survey also reveal
ed areas where there was considerable
dissatisfaction.
Two
-
thirds of online users did not know where to turn to get information about the voting
process


despite the fact that t
his had been identified as a key priority by BBC

39

qualitative electoral research.

More than half felt that no site

was best at providing
coverage of the issues in their own local area. And just under half did not know where to
turn to in order to find out
election results. Given that the online news audience seems
relatively sophisticated and politically knowledgeable, this suggests that

there are
potentially unmet needs

in the election news online market.

Why is the BBC so dominant in the provision of elec
tion news online?

The BBC website’s strong position as a

provider of election
news stands out. It has three
-
quarters of the election market, as compared to two
-
thirds of the overall news market.


Three types of explanation suggest themselv
es. First, trus
t in the impartiality of the
source may be particularly important in the online context
. The BBC

has a long
-
established reputation for trust and impartiality during election coverage. For example,
80% of the BBC News audience said it was fair to all partie
s in the 2005 election, in
contrast to only 59% who said the same about Sky News. (Ofcom, 2005). An ITC survey
in 2002 suggested that the BBC and ITV were seen as impartial by 90% of the audience,
more than any other source. Newspapers, especially tabloid

papers, were much less
trusted.(Hargreaves
, 2002)

PERCEPTIONS OF BIAS IN BBC

GENERAL ELECTION COVERAGE


1997 2001 2005

Fair to all parties

61%

66%

79%

Unfair to L
ibDem

11%


8%

7%

Unfair to Labour


7%


5%

6%

Unfair to Tories


7%


11%

6%

TOTAL UNFAIR


39%


34%

20%





No opinion/DK

45

41

Not recorded

Source: Ofcom, Viewers and Voters: Attitudes to television coverage of the 2005 General
Election, September 200
5,fieldwork 6
-
16 May, N= 1,438; ITC Surveys, 2001, 1997

BBC News Channels Only; recalculated excluding don’t knows and no opinion



40


Secondly,

the BBC made a major

investment in

website election
content.
The
BBC

is
committed by its charter to encourage pol
itical citizenship, and that is part of the
justification for its license fee funding which provides a steady source of income.

Such
investment might be difficult to justify in pure market terms, given the limited lifespan of
an election website and the co
ncentration of page views on just one day.

Thirdly, there is the ‘winner
-
take
-
all’ phenomenon on the web. The BBC established a
strong election web presence in the 2001 election. Established sites are

difficult to
dislodge

if

they become nodes
with many li
nks from other sites. Most studies of the
internet show that in any complex networks, a few sites will emerge with a domi
nant
position, even within politics sites.

(Hindman, 2003, Barabosi, 2000) Many pe
ople who
use search engines to look for political new
s take a simple approach, looing

for specific
sit
es like the BBC rather than attempt more

complicated searches. (Hind
man 2006b)


The dominant place of the BBC News on the web m
eans it is possible to broadly gauge
the nation’s online
news viewing habits
dur
ing the election
by looking in detail at

its

traffic and page views
. T
his could provide a more ac
curate picture of what kind of
news

stories were actually viewed online
, compared to the picture painted by surveys alone.

41


CHAPTER FOUR: USING INTERNET ELECT
ION NEWS

This data in this chapter is based on BBC server logs, which automatically record the
number of times any given page is accessed during a particular time period (usually a 24
hr day), and also record the number of total users to the site and its
various section
s.
These two measures are known as traffic figures (for the number of users) and page
views or page impressions (for the number of times a specific page is accessed).



People consume
d

election news in a very different way on the internet co
mpared to
media like TV and radio. Spe
cifically, election news online
was

viewed

episodic
ally
,
with a dramatic increase

in viewing figures at key times.

Day
-
to
-
day, many

viewers
appear to

have skimmed election news, while a substantial minority looked at i
n
-
depth
features.
.
The key findings of the actual use patterns of the BBC Election website are:



Election results were the most accessed function of the website. News usage
increased dramatically on the day after the election when full results were known.
More than 80% of the BBC’s website audience viewed results onl
ine. At the peak
that morning, 2
00,000 people per hour were searching for constituency results.
The 2005 General Election was the biggest traffic day in the website’s history.



News made up less
than half of the total page views for the Election website
Users accessed many other features,
including opinion pages,
audio
-
video
material, guides to how to vote, opinion poll details, and target seats lists.



Interest in the horserace


who was winning o
r losing


increased steadily over
the campaign. Use of in
-
depth features, such as the opinion poll tracker and the
seat calculator, which tracked the campaign, also rose sharply in the last week.



The ‘monitorial citizen’ is alive and well. People do not

access the site by
searching for specific stories, but browse the front page to look at headlines and
find stories they are interested in. This applies especially to election news.